Accidents can happen at any time in a store, but when you venture into offering food to go, the risks increase. Aidan Fortune looks at the implications for insurance

Food to go can be a lucrative addition to a convenience store. It offers high margins and generates a huge amount of footfall for the business. However, as the rewards get higher so too does the risk of an accident taking place, and retailers need to ensure that they are prepared for every health and safety eventuality.

Insurance loss adjuster Cunningham Lindsey UK says that retailers should examine how food to go may pose an additional risk to staff and customers. “Consider the liability risks,” says special projects director John O’Neill. “Could someone get burned or scalded by hot liquids or food? Could someone trip over a trailing flex lead? Will combustible materials such as cardboard packaging be kept well away from the machinery? What if someone spills part or all of their hot drink? Will this create a slip hazard and, if so, how can it be avoided? Perhaps the floor surface is sufficiently non-slip to cater for this, but what if it is smooth glazed ceramic tiles? These are all elements that a retailer should consider.”

O’Neill points out that food-to-go customers may not take as much care as other shoppers as they are in a rush. “Bear in mind that people purchasing food to go are often in a hurry and so may not necessarily take as much care as a more casual customer,” he says. “Accidents will be more frequent.”

Arjan Mehr of Londis in Bracknell, Berkshire, is one of the pioneers of food to go, having first installed it in his store almost 20 years ago. He knows more than most the work that is required to operate it smoothly. He runs a tight ship when it comes to health and safety procedures and makes sure that his staff know what they are doing at all times.

“Health and safety training is the highest priority when we take on a new staff member,” he says. “There is so much that staff members have to be aware of in order to produce food in a consistent manner and in a safe environment that it’s essential they are fully trained.”

Part of Arjan’s food-to-go offering is self-service and he makes sure that customers are fully aware that there is a risk. “The grab-and-go cabinet isn’t actually hot enough for someone to burn themselves on, but we still put up plenty of warning notices and have tongs for them to use,” he says. “It’s important that a retailer covers themselves and informs customers of any potential risk.”

Arjan suggests that suppliers can often help retailers to ensure their staff are fully trained. “Our food to go supplier Country Choice offers extensive training for health and safety,” he says. “They make sure that all of our staff are trained in accordance with Food Standards Agency requirements.”

He adds that retailers should also consult with suppliers and manufacturers when installing new equipment. “Even if it says that you can just plug it in and start operating it, it’s better to have professional help with it,” says Arjan. “Doing it yourself could lead to problems down the line. At least if your supplier installs it for you then you’re covered if anything does go wrong.”

As well as safety, food hygiene is another aspect that retailers need to consider. Harry Goraya runs a Nisa store in Gravesend, Kent, where food to go is one of the selling points of his business, and he maintains high standards to keep it that way. He takes health and safety for his food to go operation very seriously and is proud of the results. “We recently had a visit from the council to test us under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS), which replaced the Scores on the Doors rating scheme last year, and we scored five out of five,” says Harry. “They actually said that they wouldn’t have to test us again for two years, but I would rather they did on an annual basis as normal.”

He agrees with Arjan that thorough training is essential for anyone working on a food-to-go counter. “Any staff member who will be working in that sector has to have a food hygiene certificate, or they don’t work on the counter it’s as simple as that. They complete the food hygiene certificate when they first start and the training is refreshed on an annual basis.”

Harry adds that retailers shouldn’t have anything to worry about if they are running their section properly. “If a store owner isn’t cutting corners and is making sure that everything is being done by the book then they will have nothing to fear, especially when it comes to council inspections,” he says. “If you’re professional about it then it shouldn’t be a problem.”

He urges retailers to work with their local authorities. “A council should be able to advise you on the courses you need to send your staff on and help you make sure that you’re doing it right, rather than trying to catch you out,” he says. “Courses for staff don’t take long to complete and it ensures that staff know what they are doing when working in such a high-risk area.”

Even if your staff are trained to the highest level, it’s important to ensure that your insurance policy covers food to go just in case an accident does occur.

For more adviceabout health and safety in food to go

Health & Safety Executive
0845 345 0055 

Food Standards Agency
020 7276 8829 

British Safety Council
020 8741 1231

Kevin Hawkins, head of SME Underwriting at LV, says that retailers should look at how big their food-to-go operation is before investigating the level of insurance they need. “Insurance-wise, there is a big difference between a convenience store that sells a small amount of food to go as a sideline and a store where the main purpose is selling food to go, such as a take-away,” he says.

“Most insurers expect convenience stores to offer some sort of food to go nowadays but this was not always the case and retailers should check what their insurance policy includes before making any assumptions about whether or not they have insurance cover for it.”

Aviva product manager David Bruce urges retailers to consider the consequences of not having adequate insurance for a food to go operation. “If you had to make a claim but didn’t have adequate insurance then you would not be covered by your insurer and you would therefore need to pay any costs resulting from a claim yourself,” he says.

“If you were to suffer a major event such as a fire, for example, it could mean you were unable to trade for months. So it makes sense to have the right level of cover to enable you to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Your insurance broker can help ensure you have the right amount of cover to protect your business.”

O’Neill adds that retailers need to act in the best interests of their business. “Consider the business benefit first,” he says. “If it makes commercial sense for a retailer’s business to extend into offering food to go, then arranging insurance is something that equally makes sense. It should be easy to arrange it may even be included as part of a commercial package policy and, as always, a good insurance broker will always be able to advise on and arrange the most suitable insurance cover for the retailer.”

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Hawkins adds that although the extra insurance may involve an additional cost for store owners, it is a worthwhile investment that offers retailers peace of mind. “Selling food to go will increase the risk a store poses to insurers and retailers will see their premiums go up,” he says. “However, the increase shouldn’t be significant as most insurers will simply extend the existing policy and the higher premium will be far less than the cost of any insurance claim should the worst happen.” n

Aviva and LV= are panel members of Convenience Store Insurance. Convenience Store Insurance specialises in providing independent insurance advice to the convenience store sector and can be contacted on 0844 855 4664.